Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ outrageous 411 BC comedy has been given a wild makeover in Lois Anderson’s adaptation at this year’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.
Filled with many laugh-out-loud moments, one of the biggest comes as Marci T. House enters onstage in a stunning dress covered in forks, designed by Barbara Clayden. But it isn’t just the dress, it is how House owns the moment that makes it so hilarious.
House also appears in Timon of Athens, playing on alternating nights with Lysistrata at Bard on the Beach.
A fan of Marci since working with her on the play Stop, Kiss, I have admired both her work ethic and her career. In this Q&A I find out more about her career as an actor, some advice for young artists, and life off stage.
This interview has been edited.
You are a prolific actor adept in both comedy and drama and work on both the stage and in film. What was your training? How did it help?
I started doing theatre at the age of seven in Chicago, where I grew up. The Chicago Park District Community Center was my introduction to the arts and sports world. I did my first several plays there, as well as study various forms of dance and sports.
I always knew I wanted to be an actor, and the Park District was my first opportunity. It allowed me the opportunity to perform at a very early age and get a taste of a profession I knew absolutely nothing about. It was a kind and nurturing introduction into the arts.
Do you tackle comedy differently from drama?
I don’t think so. I think I tackle all work the same in that I always focus on the truth and my intentions in the scene. The truth of the scene is always the foundation of all work. Depending on the script, sometimes comedy might call for a bit more. There’s timing, and there are so many forms of comedy. I can in no way say I’m an expert in comedy. I just rely on my own understanding and rhythm of the writing or scene and I allow myself to push the envelope to a place of boldness and un-comfortability. That is usually where comedy starts for me, in the places that scare me to death and require me to make big choices.
Do you act differently on film that on stage?
Yes and no. The work is the same. The same research, understanding, reading, choices, etc., but the mediums are very different.
The editing room can’t save you on a stage. The camera literally catches everything. So, on screen there’s no need to be as large or loud as technology takes care of that for you. You’re ‘miked’, boomed and there’s sometime two cameras going. If you actually think it, the camera will see it.
On stage you’ve got to reach everyone in that theatre. The theatre may be a 99-seat or a 1,000-seat theatre, so your voice training is so important. Your personal strength has to be up to par because it can be a haul depending on the show. And again, there’s no editing. Once the curtain goes up it’s all you. There’s no one to save you, so you have to save yourself, and the only way to do that is by rigorous rehearsal, which you don’t get in film & television, and repetition.
You travel to work in theatres across the country. How do you get hired by out-of-town companies?
By auditioning, relationships, and by literally knocking on the doors of theatres I want to work with.
Nothing beats a failure but a try, and this industry, like most, is no different. You have to make the effort to get off your butt and go and meet the people you want to work with, as well as the stories you want to tell.
I’m an actor of color, since no one is trying to ‘create’ work for me I went and created it for myself. I work my ass off to be the best actor I can be, so that when I ask or push to be a part of the project it makes it harder for them to say no when the work is good, real, and grounded.
In the journey of this quest I’ve had the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing directors and companies, and so I nurture those relationships so that they think of me for their future projects.
But I also hop on planes for auditions at my own cost, and I also send self-tapes. Essentially I hustle for the work.
What practical steps do you think people need to do to build a career? I don’t mean “believe in yourself’ stuff. I mean actionable items.
Your agent makes 10% of your income because they only do 10% of the work. What are you doing for your 90%?
Are you sitting in a coffee shop talking about the work, or are you actively and aggressively seeking the work, writers, directors, the scripts and producers that you want to work with? If not, you’re doing it wrong.
Here’s a truth: there are way more actors out there than there will ever be work. Learn the business of the industry. This is a business like any other business, and actors need to know that. Understand how each industry works.
Film/television and theatre are two different worlds – learn the difference. Study, be professional, be punctual, read the trades and love what you do, because this business will never love you and you need to be OK with that. This business is a numbers game, get out there and shake some hands, meet the casting directors, as they are the gates keepers.
Decide honestly with yourself what you actually want. Do you want to be an actor or a celebrity? I have no advice in pursing fame or celebrity. If you’re pursuing the art, the craft of acting, allowing it to consume your life, it must, or this world is not for you. Love it. Nurture it. Respect it. Find your tribe and hustle.
What is important for young artists to remember to not scuttle their acting career? What mistakes have you seen?
It’s a very long road that is literally for the rest of your life. Be patient, but be hungry; always be hungry and never settle.
Mistakes I’ve made? I wish I’d known what was required of me from the beginning. I would have worked harder and studied more. Find a mentor. Don’t dismiss the importance of training. God bless the folks that have made a career without it, the reality is that you need it.
Training for an actor is the oxygen for our craft. While in those arenas for training you have the opportunity to meet like-minded artists and also your tribe. These will be the people who you will create with, feed off of, and grow with. Don’t discredit the importance and necessity of strong relationships.
You are also an architect. Why did you become an architect, and how do you find time for it with all the acting work you are doing?
Yes I am. Why not? I have many talents. Acting is just one of them.
I designed my first house when I was nine years old and my father build it. Anyone who has been in this industry long enough, should know that a backup plan, or additional streams of income are always a smart move.
I will never put myself in a position where all my eggs are in one basket. I work in an industry that has a horrible record of celebrating gender and racial diversity, so why would I put all my trust in that? That just doesn’t seem logical to me.
I started doing theatre as a child in Chicago, and then ventured over into film and television. But I grew up in the 80s when there was virtually no work for women of color. The term black- ingénue didn’t even exist before the likes of Jada Pinkett, Nia Long, Tisha Campbell, and Vivica Fox.
There was literally two or three black women that could or did work. Who in their right mind would go with those odds? So I decided I could still act, but I would get my education in something else. So I did.
I’ve since started four businesses since undergrad, and my current business that I started here in Vancouver is ten years old. I knew that once I became a permanent resident of Canada, I knew I would work, but things still take time. I knew I had to support myself until the acting work became consistent.
When I initially started my current business (www.2thepointdrafting.com) I did everything by myself, while I was still auditioning, acting, and studying. It was a crazy, sleep-deprived time in my life. These were tough times, but the fruits of my labor have been well worth the sacrifice.
My business is now at a point where it practically runs itself. But, most importantly I have amazing people that help me make it work. My assistant/office manager is my saving grace. In all honesty, she runs my business, so I get to live my life as an actor/artist. I still sign all the checks and make all major decisions, and deal with more technical issues, but it really runs itself at this point. With my assistant at the helm, of course.
Why should we see Lysistrata before it closes?
Because it’s funny, and right now we could all use a little laughter. The world is a little dark right now.
Also because it’s important. Don’t let the comedy fool you, the storyline is much deeper than you think. Our ongoing issues around power, space, land, patriarchy, ownership, and community are all in this play.
And because the cast includes some of Vancouver’s most talented and successful actors, and our director, Lois Anderson has crafted a pretty interesting take on a play written in 411 B.C., and made it current and fresh.
And our costume designer, Barbara Clayden is a genius. Trust me.
Lysistrata and Timon of Athens play on alternating nights at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Visit bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.